Henry VIM. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, forgotten that 'honour' in the Renaissance was defended in the last resort by battle.
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Also, war was the 'sport of kings'. By competing dynastically and territorially with his European counterparts, especially Francis I, Henry VIII acknowledged settled convention and, even more obviously, popular demand. His reign saw the boldest and most extensive invasions of France since the reign of Henry V. In fact, only a minority of contemporaries had any sense of the serious long-term economic damage that Renaissance warfare could inflict.
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Evaluation is always a matter of emphasis, but on the twin issues of monarchic theory and lust for conquest, there is everything to be said for the view that Henry VIll's policy was consistent throughout his reign; that Henry was himself directing that policy; and that his ministers and officials were allowed freedom of action only within accepted limits, and when the king was too busy to take a personal interest in state affairs.
Wolsey and the Church Cardinal Wolsey was Henry Vlll's first minister, and the 14 years of that proud but efficient prelate's ascendancy saw the king in a comparatively restrained mood. Henry, unlike his father, found writing 'both tedious and painful'; he preferred hunting, dancing, dallying, and playing the lute. In his more civilized moments, Henry studied theology and astronomy; he would wake up Sir Thomas More in the middle of the night in order that they might gaze at the stars from the roof of a royal palace.
He wrote songs, and the words of one form an epitome of Henry's youthful sentiments: 22 Pastime with good company I love and shall until I die. Grudge who lust, but none deny; So God be pleased, thus live will I; For my pastance, Hunt, sing and dance; My heart is set All goodly sport For my comfort: Who shall me let? Yet Henry himself set the tempo; his pastimes were only pursued while he was satisfied with Wolsey.
Appointed lord chancellor and chief councillor on Christmas Eve , Wolsey used the Council and Star Chamber as instruments of ministerial power in much the way that Henry VII had used them as vehicles of royal power- though Wolsey pursued uniform and equitable ideals of justice in Star Chamber in place of Henry Vll's selective justice linked to fiscal advantage. But Wolsey's greatest asset was the unique position he obtained with regard to the English Church.
Using these powers, Wolsey contrived to subject the entire English Church and clergy to a massive dose of Tudor government and taxation, and it looks as if an uneasy compromise prevailed behind the scenes in which Henry agreed that the Church was, for the moment, best controlled by a churchman who was a royal servant, and the clergy accepted that it was better to be obedient to an ecclesiastical rather than a secular tyrant - for it is unquestionably true that Wolsey protected the Church from the worst excesses of lay opinion while in office.
The trouble was that, with stability restored, and the Tudor dynasty apparently secure, England had started to become vulnerable to a 23 mounting release of forces. It used to be argued that anti-clericalism was a major cause of the English Reformation, but this interpretation has lately been challenged. Recent research has established that the majority of late medieval English clergy were not negligent or unqualified: Church courts were not usually unfair; probate, mortuary, and tithes disputes were few; pluralism, absenteeism, nepotism, sexual misconduct, and commercial 'moonlighting' by clergy were less serious than once was thought.
On the other hand, there were priests who failed to hold services at the proper times, who did not preach, and whose habits were aggressive - the rector of Addington in Northamptonshire, cited before the Lincoln consistory court in , had two children by his cook and marched about the village in chainmail. In fact, it was all too easy for a priest to behave like other villagers: to make a mistress of his housekeeper, and to spend the day cultivating his glebe.
Although the English Church was free of major scandals, such abuses as non-residence, pluralism, concubinage, and the parochial clergy's neglect to repair chancels, where these occurred, continued to attract attention. Also tithes disputes, probate and mortuary fees, charges for saying mass on special occasions, and the trial and burning of heretics could become flash-points.
In particular, it was pointed out by prominent writers, notably the grave and learned Christopher St German , that the Church's procedure in cases of suspected heresy permitted secret accusations and hearsay evidence, and denied accused persons the benefit of purgation by oath-helpers or trial by jury, which was a Roman procedure contrary to the principles of English common law- a clerical plot to deprive the English of their natural, legal rights.
Such ideas were manifestly explosive; for they incited division between clergy and common lawyers. Late medieval religion was also sacramental and institutional. As the expectations of the educated laity mirrored those of the Renaissance, many people sought to found their faith on texts of Scripture and Bible stories preferably illustrated ones , but vernacular Bibles were illegal in England - the Church authorities believed that the availability of an 24 3.
Title page to Coverdale's English Bible, David was a model for the royal supremacy, and St Paul was revered as a symbol of evangelical freedom in contrast to the papacy English Bible, even an authorized version, would foment heresy by permitting people to form their own opinions. Sir Thomas More, Wolsey's successor as lord chancellor, declared in his proclamation of 22 June that 'it is not necessary the said Scripture to be in the English tongue and in the hands of the common people, but that the distribution of the said Scripture, and the permitting or denying thereof, dependeth only upon the discretion of the superiors, as they shall think it convenient'.
More pursued a policy of strict censorship: no books in English printed outside the realm on any subject whatsoever were to be imported; he forbade the printing of scriptural or religious books in England, too, unless approved in advance by a bishop. But More and the bishops were swimming against the tide. The invention of printing had revolutionized the transmission of new ideas across Western Europe, including Protestant ideas.
Heretical books and Bibles poured from the presses of English exiles abroad, notably that of William Tyndale at Antwerp. The demand for vernacular Scriptures was persistent, insistent, and widespread; Henry VIII was enlightened enough to wish to assent to it, and publication of an official English Bible in Miles Coverdale's translation was first achieved in , the year of More's execution. Humanism and Lutheranism Of the forces springing from the European Renaissance, humanism and the influence of classical learning came first. The humanists, of whom the greatest was Erasmus of Rotterdam , rejected scholasticism in favour of simple biblical piety, or philosophic Christi, which was founded on primary textual scholarship, and in particular study of the Greek New Testament.
Erasmus made several visits to England, and it was in Cambridge in that he worked upon the Greek text of his edition of the New Testament. The humanists first challenged the English establishment in - when, preaching before Convocation, John Colet attacked clerical abuses and 26 demanded reform of the Church from within. His sermon caused resentment but the humanists continued to call for spiritual renewal. Erasmus embellished Colet's evangelism with racy criticisms of priests and monks, Catholic superstition, and even the papacy. Also in he published his Greek New Testament together with a revised Latin translation.
Scholars and educated laity were delighted; at last they drank the pure waters of the fountain-head. More's Utopia was more complex. It wittily idealized an imaginary society of pagans living on a remote island in accordance with principles of natural virtue. The Utopians possessed reason but lacked Christian revelation, and by implicitly comparing their benign social customs and enlightened attitudes with the inferior standards, in practice, of Christian Europeans, More produced an indictment of the latter based largely on deafening silence.
For the irony and scandal was that Christians had so much to learn from heathens. Yet the humanism of Colet, Erasmus, and More was fragile. Even without Luther's challenge it would have become fragmented because faith and reason in its scheme were at odds. More's solution was to argue that faith was the superior power and that Catholic beliefs must be defended because God commanded them, but Erasmus trusted human rationality and could not accept that God tested people's faith by making them believe things that Renaissance scholarship had thrown into question.
Even Luther regarded Erasmus as an enemy because of his emphasis on reason. So these fissures weakened humanism and new exponents of reform caught public attention. In England, the influence of Lutheranism exceeded the small number of converts: the rise of the 'new learning', as it was called, became the most potent of the forces released in the and Luther's ideas and numerous books rapidly penetrated the universities, especially Cambridge, the City of London, the inns of court, and even reached Henry Vlll's court through 27 the intervention of Anne Boleyn and her circle.
At Cambridge, the young scholars influenced included Thomas Cranmer and Matthew Parker, both of whom later became archbishops of Canterbury. Wolsey belatedly made resolute efforts as legate to stamp out the spread of Protestantism, but without obvious success. His critics blamed his reluctance to burn men for heresy - for Wolsey would burn books and imprison men, but shared the humane horror of Erasmus at the thought of himself committing bodies to the flames.
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However, the true reason for Luther's appeal was that he had given coherent doctrinal expression to the religious subjectivity of individuals, and to their distrust of clerical power and papal monarchy. His view of the ministry mirrored the instincts of the laity, and his answer to concubinage was the global solution of clerical marriage. Although Catherine of Aragon had borne five children, only the Princess Mary b. It was clear by that Catherine was past the age of childbearing; meanwhile Henry coveted Anne Boleyn, who would not comply without the assurance of marriage.
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Yet royal annulments were not infrequent, and all might have been resolved without drama, or even unremarked, had not Henry VIII been a proficient, if mendacious, theologian. The chief obstacle was that Henry, who feared international humiliation, insisted that his divorce should be granted by a competent authority in England -this way he could deprive his wife of her legal rights, and bully his episcopal judges. In order to have his case decided without reference to Rome, in face of the papacy's unwillingness to concede the matter, 28 Henry had to prove against the reigning pope, Clement VII, that his predecessor's dispensation was invalid - then the marriage would automatically terminate, on the grounds that it had never legally existed.
Henry would be a bachelor again.
However, this strategy took the king away from matrimonial law into the quite remote and hypersensitive realm of papal power. If Julius ll's dispensation was invalid, it must be because the successors of St Peter had no power to devise such instruments, and the popes were thus no better than other human legislators who had exceeded their authority. Henry was a good enough theologian to know that there was a minority opinion in Western Christendom to precisely this effect. He was enough of an egoist, too, to fall captive to his own powers of persuasion - soon he believed that papal primacy was unquestionably a sham, a ploy of human invention to deprive kings and emperors of their legitimate inheritances.
Henry looked back to the golden days of the British imperial past, to the time of the Emperor Constantine and of King Lucius I. In fact, Lucius I had never existed - he was a myth, a figment of pre-Conquest imagination. But Henry's British 'sources' showed that this Lucius was a great ruler, the first Christian king of Britain, who had endowed the British Church with all its liberties and possessions and then written to Pope Eleutherius asking him to transmit the Roman laws.
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However, the pope's reply explained that Lucius did not need any Roman law, because he already had the lex Britanniae whatever that was under which he ruled both Church and State: For you be God's vicar in your kingdom, as the psalmist says, 'Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness to the king's son' Ps. Ixxii: i. A King hath his name of ruling, and not of having a realm.
You shall be a king, while you rule well; but if you do otherwise, the name of a king shall not remain with you. God grant you so to rule the realm of Britain, that you may reign with him for ever, whose vicar you be in the realm. Henry's divorce had led him, incredibly, to believe in his royal supremacy over the English Church. The Reformation and Cromwell With the advent of the divorce crisis, Henry took personal charge of his policy and government.
He ousted Wolsey, who was hopelessly compromised in the new scheme of things, since his legatine power came directly from Rome. He named SirThomas More to the chancellorship, but this move backfired owing to More's scrupulous reluctance to involve himself in Henry's proceedings.